Monday, January 12, 2015

St. Francis of Assisi Supported the Crusades

St. Francis did not consider preaching the Gospel to save Muslim souls to be incompatible with the use of force to defend Christian lives

He respected the Pope's call for military action to protect Christian lives and property in the Middle East.  Yet at the same time Francis attempted to convert Muslims to Christianity, and risked martyrdom himself in order to do so.

Documentation for the saint's support of the Fifth Crusade, upon which he embarked in 1219, comes from numerous sources.  Pope Innocent III  had initially laid the plans for this Crusade,  but it was Pope Honorius III who launched it in 1217.  Two years later, St. Francis along with a dozen followers, embarked on one of the galleys comprising the Crusader fleet, as it left Ancona, Italy.  He disembarked in Syria to visit his friars of his Order in that area, and then resumed his journey on another Crusader vessel.  He finally reached the city of Damietta in Egypt, a Muslim port city on the Nile under siege by the Crusader army.  The main Muslim force, led by their king, Sultan al-Kamil, was encamped further up the river.

Risking martyrdom, during a temporary truce he crossed over to the camp of the Sultan's army.  Francis and one other member of his Order (who probably was the interpreter), were captured by the sentries, beaten, and carried in chains to al-Kamil, after indicating that they wanted to speak to him.  He explained to the Sultan that he was not an emissary sent by the Crusaders, but was sent by God to proclaim the gospel message of salvation taught by Jesus Christ.  Impressed by the courage of Francis, the Sultan listened to him intently as the Faith was preached to him and his attendants, apparently over a number of days.

The saint did not directly attack the religion of Mohammed, but confined his discourse to expounding the truths of the Christian religion.  He told the Sultan that he was concerned about his salvation, since if the Sultan refused to believe, God would not accept his soul.  In addition he said that it was just that the Christians invade the land his followers inhabit, since they blaspheme the name of Christ and alienate everyone they can from His worship. 

A foremost expert on Francis and the Fifth Crusade, Professor James Powell, wrote: "Francis of Assisi went to Damietta on a mission of peace. There can be no question about this.  We should not however try to make him a pacifist or to label him as a critic of the crusade."  Another leading crusade scholar, Christoph Maier, was even more explicit: "Francis thus accepted the crusade as both legitimate and ordained by God, and he was quite obviously not opposed to the use of violence when it came to the struggle between Christians and Muslims."  Another historian noted that "unreserved support of the crusade had become normative in the Order."

Detailed references for the sources mentioned are available in my work, St. Francis of Assisi and the Conversion of the Muslims, published by TAN Books.


  1. Pope Francis should take a cue from his namesake and go preach conversion to the Muslims in Cairo. But wait...that's "solemn nonsense". Instead, in his trip to the Holy Land, he brings his Muslim friend along and makes it clear he's just fine with him remaining a Muslim until the day he dies. What is wrong here?

  2. There is a big difference between Christ's universal love for everyone because each of us is made in God's image, and distorting that love into justifying or tacitly accepting evilness. You can not love evilness or rationalize it and call yourself a Catholic. If you hang out and fraternize with evilness and remain silent in the face of this evilness, then your action to remain silent is itself evil. The Catholic Church has seemed to forgotten this simple truth.

  3. The only solution to the problem of Islamic terrorism is conversion to Christianity. The problem is that the West no longer believes in it themselves. You can convert someone to a raliogion you don't believe in.

  4. I am confused by Don's question. In the article St. Francis delivered a message and a witness to the Sultan. Pope Francis has consistently delivered the same message. The message for conversion is offered. Who abrogates the freedom of the recipient? It is an invitation. Conversion is not in the province of the messenger. It is the option of the recipient to accept or refuse the invitation. Now we see the true consequences and effects of freedom.

    In Deuteronomy 30, God through Moses offers life or death. Moses advises choose life. As in the Old Testament so in the New, Good news is delivered. Witness is performed. An invitation to repentance is given. What more can a witness(martyr) do other than pray for the gift of the grace of conversion for the recipient.

  5. If we had a valid Catholic Pope,his name would be Pope Urban.That name needs to be resurrected during this non-Catholic illegal migrant Flux of future jihadi's.

  6. I know Jesus’ agrees that if we cannot yet forgive our enemy, loving them is talking to them. Love has no preconditions.
    In dialogue that we might first listen to each other, seek to understand each other, laying the foundation of trust to put in place systems to ameliorate the unjust roots that drive this war … which many say will end in WWIII. Our police ambushed in the streets a symptom and a sign of things to come.
    The angry and judgmental tone of the comments to date on this blog disturbing. I am deeply Catholic and deep concerned about the tone of the above comments. Francis did not attempt to convert his enemy, he spoke of love and deep concern for the salvation of his enemy ... his heart a peace.
    In like manner this Pope proceeds.

  7. Thank you for your sincere comment St. Francis did dialog with the Sultan, but it was a dialog aimed to convert him. It was not just a friendly chat to see what Christ and Islam had in common. The goal of Francis was to bring Muslims to accept Christ, since he was deeply Catholic he wanted their salvation. This aspect of conversion was not the purpose of the article however, it was to show that he did not oppose the Crusades. Have you read the book, "St. Francis of Assisi and the Conversion of the Muslims"?